'Italicized words with single quotation marks indicate thoughts.'
Chapter 3: Arrival (sometime after midnight early Saturday Morning)’Ow,’
thought Xander as he slowly regained consciousness ‘why does my head hurt and when did my bed get so hard?’
The last thing he remembers is holding Willow, a bright light and pain, a whole lot of pain. His body still aches from the lingering effects of it. “Man, even my teeth hurt” he whispers. Xander took in a deep breath and slowly began to open his eyes. The first thing he realized was that he was outside and it was dark as he stares up at a beautiful star filled night sky. The next thing he noticed was that he was holding someone in his arms. At first he thought it was Anya, but Anya didn’t have red hair.
Suddenly everything that happened came back to him in a rush; the portal, Glory, and finally Willow. He remembered screaming in pain then blacking out. ‘What happened,’
he wondered as his mind began to focus again. He slowly turned to gaze at the back of Willow’s head. He was lying on his side, spooned to her back, with both arms twined around her waist. He couldn’t see her face and she hadn’t moved yet. Slowly he moved his arms and propped up onto one elbow as he slowly turned her onto her back so that he could peer into her face. Willow was still unconscious, her face unnaturally pale and drawn, her eyes still closed and she had dried blood tracking along face from her nose and mouth. Her face set into a painful grimace. Xander quickly checked both her pulse and breathing. To his relief her pulse was strong and she was taking weak shallow breaths. Sure she didn’t look too hot but she was breathing and by a Scooby’s standards that was pretty darn good.
He sat up on his knees and leaned back on his haunches. He took a closer inspection of their injuries and surroundings. Their clothes were wrinkled and slightly burnt around the edges but fortunately they didn’t appear to have any scars. Xander found his wallet and Willow’s small card case in their pockets; at least they had some ID and money on them. The next thing he noticed was that they weren’t at the tower. It seemed they were in the middle of a forest clearing. Twenty feet to his right was a large crop of rocks that seemed to resemble a throne and it had these weird markings all over it. He couldn’t read the writing but maybe when Willow woke up she might be able to recognize the language. If Willow ever woke up, oh God, he prayed that Willow woke up soon.
The place felt weird, slightly off. It gave him the creeps and made his skin crawl and itch. But he couldn’t sense any immediate danger. He strained his eyes into the darkness between the trees and saw nothing. All he could hear was the usual night noises of a forest. His first instinct was to run and find a safe place to hide. But Willow was still unconscious and he was too weak to carry her. Anyway he would rather face a possible demon or vampire in the open than some bear or predator in a dark forest. Yes, he had fought scarier things than a bear or a wolf but he has experience with fighting demons. He didn’t know how to take down a bear. He was a Scooby not freaking Davey Crockett. First things first, he needed a weapon, something to protect them with, so he grabs a large rock and a heavy tree branch he found lying near by. For now he’d just keep watch until Willow woke up then maybe they could figure out what’s going on.
As Willow slept on, Xander’s mind began to focus on their current situation. As near as he could tell they were no where near town. He doubted they were even in California because it was just too freaking cold. Xander scooted closer to Willow to try to keep them both warm. He didn’t dare start a fire and chance attracting any unwanted guests. He was almost sure they hadn’t died because he couldn’t picture this as heaven. There was no sign of the Scoobies or Glory. He hadn’t seen anyone since waking. He didn’t think they had been kidnapped because why would their kidnapper leave them out in the open, unrestrained, where they would have plenty of opportunities to escape. But he was sure of one thing, he had no idea what was going on.
Finally just after dawn Willow began to stir. She let out a long drawn out moan and tentatively stretched her limbs. “Owie,” she groaned, she was hurting all over. She opened her blurry eyes and tried to focus. It was bright, way too bright, and she placed one arm over her eyes.
“Hey Wills, are you okay?” questioned Xander in a worried tone.
She look into Xander’s concerned eyes, took in a deep breath and then another before she responded.
“Yeah, I think so; accept for a really bad headache. Um, Xander where are we and where is everyone else?”
“That’s what I’d like to know too, I’ve been awake for a few hours now and I still can’t figure it out,” pouted Xander.
Willow frowned at his answer and uncovered her eyes. With great care she sat up and looked at her friend with questioning eyes. As she did she took in her surroundings and realized they were in the middle of a forest.
“Um, Xander how did we get here?” she asked him.
“Sorry Wills I have no idea. I was hoping that you knew or at least could figure it out” he said.
“Aren’t we supposed to be dead?” asked Willow
Xander just shrugged his shoulders as if he didn’t know why they were still alive either.
He’d fully expected to die. He just chocked it up to the normal wackiness of the Hellmouth.
“Just typical, you expect to die, next thing you know you’re in the middle of the forest with no food or water. Well, maybe the Hellmouth decided going out in a ball of flames was just way too quick. Hey, now”, Xander snapped his finger in mock exultation, “dying slowly from starvation and exposure is a much better way to go. Yep, sounds just like the Hellmouth, much more painful and angsty.”
Well it’s official, Willow was now thoroughly confused. The last thing she clearly remembered was closing the portal and starting to pass out. She was sure she’d closed it; she could just feel it in her bones. She only hoped that everyone else was okay. She may have closed the portal but Glory was still around and once she figured out that she’d lost her only way home she was going to be pissed.
And there was another thing that bothered her, this place felt weird, different from anything she’d ever felt at the Hellmouth. It made her skin tingle. It wasn’t a painful feeling, more disconcerting than anything else. To be honest, she could learn to like it. Just like Xander she could sense the energy in their surroundings and judge if it was a threat or not. It was a sixth sense that the two oldest scoobies had developed from years of exposure to the Hellmouth. All the residents of Sunnydale had it, to a degree. There was no way you could grow up at the center of a mystical convergence and have it not change you in some way. The Hellmouth touched everyone that lived there, humans and demons alike. It allowed their auras to become sensitive to the power that surrounded them everyday like radar.
It was nothing like Buffy’s spider senses, but it was close. Willow had learned to hone in this skill through practicing Wicca. She was much better at interpreting what she felt than Xander. She was able to use this sixth sense to get a feel of the energy and magic around her and what she felt at that moment was weird. It didn’t feel like the Hellmouth, sure it was supernatural, but not as dark or volatile. What ever the energy was she could tell it liked them, it was drawn to them and caressed and whispered against their skin. In fact it was quite intoxicating like gentle waves in the ocean, but just different enough to be distracting. It rubbed her the wrong way and she quickly placed a shield over both Xander and herself to protect them from its effects.
“Hey Wills if you’re up for it there's a bunch of rocks over there with some writing on them. Maybe it can tell us where we are,” suggested Xander as he gesture toward the throne he’d spotted last night.
Xander carefully helped Willow up and they gingerly approach the throne. Once there Willow quickly scanned the markings with a critical eye. “I’m not too sure what it means exactly. The dialect is a really old form of Cheyenne. But I think this is a place of power called the lupanar and it belongs to the Thronos Rokke Clan, must be a Native American tribe.” Willow turned to Xander and shrugged her shoulders.
“Well at least we know where we are even though I don’t know what that means to us” said Xander.
“Maybe we should try to find some form of civilization before it gets dark again?” suggested Willow.
“Well that sounds like a plan. I thought I saw a trail earlier. I say we follow it” said Xander.
Xander and Willow walked silently for hours each lost in their own thoughts, each worried about their friends. Their pace was slow because Willow hadn’t yet fully recovered from her injuries. They stopped several times so she could rest. Sometime around noon the silence became over bearing and finally Xander couldn’t take it anymore.
“You know Wills I’m starving, you have anything to eat on ya?” asked Xander.
“Sorry Xan, maybe we can find some nuts and berries. Do you know what’s safe to eat around here?” questioned Willow.
“Well no. How should I know?” questioned Xander with a disbelieving sigh.
“Well didn’t you go to camp to learn some survival skills?” asked Willow timidly.
“Unless you count making a macaroni necklace a survival skill I would say no.” answered Xander sarcastically. “What about you weren’t you a wilderness girl?”
“Um yeah, but the most I ever did was sell cookies” frowned Willow.
“Ah ha, found a couple of granola bars in my back pocket.” Exclaimed an overjoyed Xander and he handed a bar to Willow.
“Well at least we won’t starve,” said Willow.
They continued their conversation as they walked along the path. Willow shared her theory about what had happened with Xander. Willow fully expected to die last night. You just don’t absorb that much of the Hellmouth energy and expect to walk away from it. But, when Xander had stepped in their combined life forces gave them enough strength to close the portal and survive the ordeal. With that much chaotic energy coursing through their bodies, it’s hard to predict what the outcome will be. One lesson they had both learned living on the Hellmouth, things hardly ever turn out the way you expected them to. So without a spell to guide the magic that was coursing through their bodies; Willow suspected instead of killing them, the energy probably transported them some where else. Well that’s what her theory was anyway.
Sometime just after midnight, early Sunday morning, they finally reached a road. Xander fell on his hands and knees and kissed the paved surface. “Finally civilization!” cried Xander as he hopped back up on his feet, rocking back and forth on his heels in excitement. Willow was sporting a bright smile as she giggled at his antics. She was excited too, she couldn’t wait to get home and check up on their friends. It been a long day for both of them and the road meant they were getting closer to home.
They walked along the side of the road in the crisp night air at a quicker pace anxious to get back to town. But as they continued nothing seemed familiar. An hour later they reached a sign post and what they saw stopped them dead in their tracks. Both their jaws dropped in disbelief as they read the black bold letters of the road sign.WELCOME TO ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
“St. Louis?!” moaned Willow in shock as she placed both hands on her face with fingers splayed wide.
“What the HELL?!” shouted Xander. “DAMN! DAMN the Hellmouth! That son of a bitch!” cursed Xander in fury as he shook his fist at the sky.